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The Thoreau Society, Inc. is an informal gathering 
of students and followers of Henry David Thoreau. 
Wendell Glick, Duluth, Minn., president; Mrs. 
Charles MacPherson, Acton, Mass., vice-president; 
and Walter Harding, State University, Geneseo, N.Y. 
14454, secretary- treasurer. Annual membership 
$3.00; life membership, $100.00. Address communi- 
cations to the secretary 

Feel free to reptint material herein (unless 
otherwise specified) but please acknowledae the 
Thoreau Society Bulletin as your source. 


ESSAY (An address to the Thoreau Society 15 July 
1978) by Paul 0. Williams 

In spite of the title of this paper, it is not 
really scholarly. The subject is far too broad for 
coverage in the time of the traditional Thoreau 
Society address. Rather than limiting my range to 
a portion of Thoreau' s influence I could examine 
in detail, I would like to take a sweeping view of 
this neglected area of study. There is room here 
for many investigations, and it is my hope that 
this presentation may stimulate some of them. 

I would like at the outset to make a distinction 
between the broad and amorphous category of writing 
we hear referred to often as "nature writing" and 
the sub-category I will consider here as the Ameri- 
can nature essay. I admit readily that the dis- 
tinction may be somewhat artificial, but I feel it 
is useful, and especially so in speaking of 
Thoreau' s influence. 

What I mean by the nature essay is non-fiction 
which focuses not only on the facts of natural 
history but makes inquiry into their feel, their 
relationship to man and his interests, nature, and 
being. It is always writing done with conscious 
artistry, with a genuine literary knowledge and 
quality. It has a philosophical dimension, but its 
philosophy is of the fiterary kind, growing out of 
observation and resting all its weight on real 
perceptions. Loren Eiseley sees Thoreau in his 
journals as "a man sorting, selecting, questioning 
less nature than his own way into nature, to find 
... 'a patent for himself.'"-'- That is the com- 
bination. The nature essay is written by people 
who feel that in the natural world there is, some- 
how, a hieroglyph which, if they can just read it, 
will turn out to be their own names. 

Certainly Thoreau was such a person. The nature 
essay is a place where natural history, philosophy, 
and literature meet. Thoreau has a place in all 
three disciplines. This lifts his work above much 
nature writing. After all, one doesn't want merely 
to read about someone else's day in the wild. We 
all have our own days. But his illuminations 
there, his response to those magnificent stimuli — 
that is another thing altogether. 

My stipulative definition leaves out a number of 
categories of nature writing, even some in which 
Thoreau has had a manifest or probable influence. 
Nature fiction such as Ernest Thompson Seton's 
animal biographies, or the recent studies of Sally 
Carrigher, One Day at Teton Marsh , One Day at Bee- 
tle Rock , or The Twilight Seas are another strain, 
as are Robert Murphy's The Pond or The Stream . 
Incidental accounts of someone's personal observa- 
tions of nature, which do not take into account 


FALL 1978 

the significance, the impression, the subjective 
quality, other than sentiment, of what was observed, 
do not to my sense fall into the category. Be- 
havioral studies, such as Robert Ardrey's African 
Genesis or The Territorial Imperative , have other 
roots. Though they resemble the form I am dis- 
cussing, they begin with a single thesis, of the 
continuity of behavior among man, other primates, 
and other animals, and develop their speculations 
on that. This limits the free play of inquiry -one 
finds in the essay. Natural history textbooks I 
would not include either since their focus is on 
fact rather than on the significance of fact. Nor 
would I include environmental activitism. Such 
texts direct themselves, ultimately, toward techni- 
ques rather than essence, politics rather than 

A lot remains, a very large literature of fine 
books and shorter essays of a type Americans must 
value, judging by their popularity. Such writincr_ 
may vary in nature and aim, but it still falls 
within or borders on literature which may be des- 
cribed by my definition above. What is important 
for us here is that as far as I have been able to 
tell, for all intents and purposes, Thoreau inven- 
ted this sub-genre of nature writing. 

Certainly there was much nature writing before 
Thoreau, and he had his precendents in the poetry 
of Wordsworth, the rich philosophical and religious 
literature of New England, the botanizing habits 
of his neighbors, the essay form so finely honed in 
his time and region, and the work of Emerson. 
Travel literature, of which the nineteenth century 
produced so many fine examples, surely contributed 
an element to Thoreau' s nature essay form. So did 
the native wit of his culture, his compositional 
instruction at Harvard, and his wide reading, both 
ancient and modern. 

Gilbert White's The Natural History of Selbourne 
is sometimes cited as a precedent. It is indeed a 
charming and informative book, and one can find in 
it examples of the sort of probing beyond the fact 
that is so habitual with Thoreau, but not that many. 
Its investigations into natural history are conduc- 
ted by a religiously comfortable country parson, 


* Don't forget that the Thoreau Society will * 
*hold its first winter meeting in conjunction * 
*with the annual meeting of the Modern Language* 
*Association in New York City on December 27, * 
*1978, at 9 p.m. in the Gibson A Suite of the * 
♦Hotel Hilton. Raymond Gozzi will speak on * 
*"Thoreau and I: A Personal Note" and Walter * 
*Harding on "Thoreau and Eros." * 


and do not contain the same hunger in ontological 
search that one finds in Thoreau. Thoreau cites 
White four times in the journals; each time his 
interest is in the naturalist's observations. 

William Gilpin's picturesque travel writing is 
also cited as a source for Thoreau. Here, even in 
Thoreau' s own opinion in the journals, Gilpin was 
not writing what Thoreau was after. His journal 
references to Gilpin, spanning the period of March 
31, 1852 to November 8, 1858, show that Thoreau 
read him extensively and with real interest. On 
January 8, 1854, however, Thoreau objects to a 
certain shallowness in Gilpin's concept of nature 
in his "Essay on Picturesque Travel," concluding, 
"The elegant Gilpin. I like his style and manners 
better than anything he says." 7 This opinion seems 
confirmed the next month, when he remarks, "Gilpin 
talked as if there was some food for the soul in 
mere physical light and shadow, as if, without the 
suggestion of a moral, they could give a man plea- 
sure or pain!" 

Perhaps this last comment gives one of the bases 
of Thoreau' s originality — his transcendentalism. 
What he means by "the suggestion of a moral" is, of 
course, to be very liberally viewed. Thoreau, as 
we all know, wasn't pasting on moral tags, but he 
was always vitally concerned with how people should 
conduct their lives. This concern, as any reader 
of the early journal knows, predated his deep in- 
volvement in nature. It is this interest to which 
he addresses himself persistently, by means of the 
insights derived from his observations of things 

In Walden is a mini-essay familiar to you all 
which illustrates this method. Thoreau is descri- 
bing the hares nibbling his potato peelings: 
Near at hand they only excited my pity. 
One evening one sat by my door two paces 
from me, at first trembling with fear, 
yet unwilling to move; a poor wee thing, 
lean and bony, with ragced ears and 
sharp nose, scant tail and slender paws. 
It looked as if Nature no longer contained 
the breed of nobler bloods, but stood on 
her last toes. Its large eyes appeared 
young and unhealthy, almost dropsical. 
I took a step, and lo, away it scud with 
an elastic spring over the snow crust, 
straightening its body and its limbs 
into graceful length, and soon put the 
forest between me and itself, — the wild 
free venison, asserting its vigor and 
the dignity of Nature. Not without 
reason was its slenderness. Such then 
was its nature. 
The moral comment, for such we may call it, is 
clear here, though implied. It is perception be- 
yond the surface, commentary on human values and 
the vitality of the natural life. To this he adds 
a prose-poem of lyric praise: 

What is a country without rabbits and 
partridges? They are among the most 
simple and indigenous animal products; 
ancient and venerable families known to 
antiquity as to modern times; of the very 
hue and substance of Nature, nearest 
allied to leaves and to the ground, — and 
to one another; it is either winged or it 
is legged. It is hardly as if you had 
seen a wild creature when a rabbit or a 
partridge bursts away, only a natural 

one, as much to be expected as rustl- 
ing leaves. 
Who had expended such insight, or cherished this 
subject with such precise language before Thoreau? 
Only poets, probably, and then not in the ranked 
and marshalled masses which constitute the bulk of 
Thoreau 1 s fine nature writing. Here was a new 
thing — a new literary sub-genre and a superior 
writing standard against which all subsequent 
writers in the form would have to measure them- 



Surely it is significant that Thoreau came to the 
nature essay form with a deep and broad literary 
background. As you well know, the young Thoreau 
was a bookish person. In the early journals, his 
interminable lists of literary and historical 
figures show the breadth of interest and keenness 
of perception of one well educated in the liberal 
arts before things natural really began to stir his 
depths. Of course the interest was always there, 
and the excursions of his boyhood simply matured 
into a remarkable manhood, but his early accounts 
of the wild tend to be generalized, aesthetic, and 
literary. The later fusion of his literary back- 
ground, philosophical depth, transcendental atti- 
tude , and commitment to the natural world have 
given us this new thing that has shaped the de- 
velopment of an entire literature. 

As we all know, it was not for some time that the 
accomplishments of Thoreau as a nature essayist 
were to be acknowledged. This enabled the first 
serious subsequent writer in the form, John 
Burroughs, to perceive Thoreau' s shortcomings some- 
what more clearly than later writers have. Pro- 
bably as well Burroughs did not perceive Thoreau 's 
accomplishment as clearly as he might have . 

But like Burroughs, many of the major writers in 
the nature essay form, as I have described it, as 
well as some minor contributors to it, are active 
Thoreauvians — students of his work, commentators 
on him, or at least acknowledgers that Thoreau is 
a burden to some, an enduring rock in the stream 
of time, which parts the waters, and which looks 
to be there jutting up in the sun a long time. 
For such the Thoreauvian influence is a challenge 
or threat. 

But there are other aspects of this influence, 
and to them I would like to devote the rest of this 
this presentation. Thoreau has functioned as an 
example, a dimension, an approach, a precedent, a 
subject, a source, and an anthology. And, of 
course , as a sacred cow. 

In fact, Thoreau functioned in all those capaci- 
ties but the last to John Burroughs. For example, 
"Pepacton" recounts a boat trip Burroughs took down 
the east branch of the Delaware Rive in emulation 
of Thoreau' s A Week . Burroughs' repeated essays 
on Thoreau gave us some of the most perceptive of 
early commentary. Surely the most important of 
these, "Henry D. Thoreau," first printed in the 
Century Magazine of July, 1882, and later in 
Indoor Studies , in 1889, is a rich and penetrating 
appreciation. It is significant, I feel, that the 
essay is more about Thoreau the man and Thoreau 
the writer than about Thoreau the naturalist, 
though the natural was Burroughs ' preeminent in- 
terest. Burroughs undervalued Thoreau' s abilities 
as a naturalist, writing, "He has added no new line 
or touch to the portrait of bird or beast that I 
can recall, — no important or significant fact to 
their lives t" But he adds that this was not 

what Thoreau was looking for. "His eye," writes 
Burroughs, "was not penetrating and interpretive. 
It was full of speculation; it was sophisticated 
with literature, sophisticated with Concord, 
sophisticated with himself. His mood was subjec- 
tive rather than objective. He was more intent on 
the natural history of his own thought than on 
that of the bird." 13 

For our purposes, one can only say that Burroughs 
could not have written his 1882 essay without 
having read Thoreau widely and deeply. The fact 
that he himself is not more Thoreauvian, and per- 
haps that his books now gather so much dust on the 
shelves of second-hand stores, resulted from his 
desire to be more of a naturalist and less of a 
philosopher, a penetrator, a stylist. Often 
Burroughs' idea of objectivity results in triviali- 
ty, in the "I went here, then I went there, then I 
saw that, and then I did this" tendency of many 
nature writers, whose writing does not flower into 
thought, or flash with wit, whose writing may 
particularlize , but in such a way that the particu- 
lars will not universalize and become memorable. 

When we reach the writing of a naturalist like 
Edwin Way Teale, we find the influence of Thoreau 
acquires a new dimension. I think we can say that 
no nature essayist has known the writing of 
Thoreau, especially the journal, with the intimacy 
that Teale does. Not only has his wife Nellie, 
read him the entire text of the journal aloud, but 
Teale has read the journal through twice more and 
edited his favorite selections from Thoreau for 
The Thoughts of Thoreau . Thoreau seems to creep 
into almost every Teale volume, including even The 
Strange Lives of Familiar Insects . Teale has 
edited selections from both Audubon and John Muir, 
and made his own anthology of a great variety of 
commentators on nature, in his Green Treasury , 
but it is still to Thoreau that he returns most 
frequently. A past president of this society, 
Teale is surely our own expert on Thoreau the 

But has this influenced his own writing? Surely, 
as is proper with a Thoreauvian, he is his own man. 
Still, there are resemblances. Both writers have 
found ways of writing about themselves in an im- 
personal way, with an outward turn of mind, and 
without sentimentality or triviality, lifting the 
text above the merely autobiographical. Like 
Thoreau, Teale writes both travel and backyard 
books. Both men have rich literary resources which 
find their way into their nature essays. Both have 
an inability to resist an amusing story. Both are 
highly conscious literary stylists in, a type of 
writing in which, in general, one too often encoun- 
ters merely plodding exposition. Both men feel and 
convey their interior leap of joy at some observa- 
tion or perception, giving their feel for the 
natural world a lyric and emotive thrust. Both 
have that careful and dogged patience which enables 
them to outwait the slow processes they are ob- 
serving — to stay there until something happens and 
to see it. 

Both writers give specific descriptions, as for 
example of bird song, but both add the sense of the 
lift of spirit the observation has brought. 

What we get in each case is what Teale has called 
" that feeling ," adding, "It is an inner emotional 
response that cannot be counterfeited." 

While Teale 's approach to Thoreau is that of a 
naturalist, Loren Eiseley comes at him from another 


direction — that of a philosophical paleontologist 
who finds in Thoreau the expression of some of his 
own persistent concerns. Surely Eiseley has added 
to the nature essay in our time a stylistic lyri- 
cism, a philosophical depth, and a breadth of 
vision in time that are, if not unique, at least 
highly original. As an evolutionist, deeply 
believing in the viability of the slow workings of 
nature through vast sweeps of time, he was deeply 
troubled by the speed of change that western man 
has intoduced into the natural world. "We in the 
western world," he writes, "have rushed eagerly to 
embrace the future — and in so doing we have pro- 
vided that future with a strength it has derived 
from us and our endeavors. Now, stunned, puzzled 
and dismayed, we try to withdraw from the embrace, 
not of a necessary tomorrow, but of that future 
which we have invited and of which, at last, we 
have grown perceptibly afraid." 

It is significant that such a writer should re- 
turn to Thoreau as often as he does. Eisely sees 
Thoreau in part as a futurist. It strikes him 
that Thoreau saw "human civilizations as toadstools 
sprung up in the night by solitary roads. When 
Thoreau describes the pickerel in Walden as 
"animalized water," Eisely sees this as a "moment of 
strange insight," for he, from an evolutionary 
rather than a transcendental point of view, agrees 
In his last, posthumous essay on Thoreau, Eiseley, 
perhaps reading into the Concordian a measure of his 
own feeling, calls him "a spiritual wanderer through 
the deserts of the modern world." Yet, as we well 
know, for Thoreau there was a very vivid alternative 
world around him. 

It is both a literary and a philosophical concern 
for Thoreau that has made Joseph Wood Krutch an- 
other persistent Thoreauvian as well as a nature 
essayist of some skill. A Broadway drama critic 
from 1924 until 1952, Krutch spent his last years, 
until his death in 1970, as a naturalist and nature 
essayist in the American southwest. Brooks Atkin- 
son, whose interests are remarkably similar, has 
reminded us that Krutch did not read Walden until he 
was thirty-seven. He says, "Since he was always his 
own man, it would be unfair to imply that Thoreau 's 
Walden changed his mind." But he adds that after 
Krutch wrote his critical biography of Thoreau in 
1948, "For the rest of Krutch' s life, Thoreau 
was in his mind. Krutch quoted no other writer as 
much. " 

Like so many nature essayists of recent times, 
Krutch despaired at some of the directions the 
modern world has taken. In 1967, his opinion was 
that while Thoreau' s reputation had "grown steadily 
since his death," "his actual influence upon society 
as a whole is very nearly nil." This was a matter 
of some anguish to Krutch. 

In reading a book like Krutch 's on the Grand 
Canyon, one finds a simple gauge of the nature of 
his apprehension of Thoreau. In the first 229 
pages of text, he cites or quotes Thoreau twice. 
In the remaining 47, Thoreau appears twelve times. 
The first section is largely expository. The last 
chapters are more probing. Krutch is expressing 
his concern for the survival of the natural world. 
He remarks at one point, "In each of the five or 
six 'nature books' I have written there has come a 
time when it was impossible not to quote a certain 
sentence from Thoreau." 28 It is not the comparison 
of observations that Krutch turns to. It is 
Thoreau' s essayist dimension, his literary and 

philosophical side. 

As a nature essayist, Krutch is far more a man of 
letters than a research naturalist. He has not the 
infinite patience of a Teale, nor the depth of 
background knowledge. But his search beyond obser- 
vation, to significances, is in the best Thoreau- 
vian tradition, and he is a soldier in the camp of 
nature embattled. 

I can't close without a word about Annie Dillard's 
exquisite Pilgrim at Tinker Creek of 1974. 30 While 
it would be easy to exaggerate Dillard's Thoreau- 
vian tendencies, she is a past member of this 
society and fits the pattern of the man of letters 
deeply concerned with the natural world. 31 While 
details of her natural observations may sometimes 
be imperfect, nonetheless her inquiry into the 
nature of natural life, and her attempts to recon- 
cile herself with its cruelties, put the book in 
the best nature essay tradition. As one might 
expect, she quotes Thoreau. She also names her 
goldfish Ellery Channing, refers to a large array 
of nature writers, chief of whom is Teale, bores 
into her subject with an eye sharpened by the need 
to see beyond fact to value and meaning. And she 
writes in a remarkable prose. 

There is much more to say, but I must end. How- 
ever, I would like to offer one final and perhaps 
rash generalization. Today is not, as a whole, a 
rich time for the traditional essay form. People 
now write articles — by the hundreds and thousands- 
-being often more concerned with how to do a thing 
than why they are doing it. But the essay is alive 
and well and residing a good part of its time among 
nature writers. I like to think that Thoreau had a 
lot to do with that. We have seen that a number of 
the best of the nature essayists are Thoreauvians. 4 
Surely this is no accident. Obviously there is a 
fellow feeling. Beyond that, there is often an 
influence, and the sturdiness and agility of 
Thoreau 's prose, and the extent of his work, have 
set a standard for the genre that has greatly en- 
riched this aspect of our culture. 


"Thoreau 's Vision of the Natural World," The 
Illustrated World of Thoreau , ed. Howard Chapnick 
(New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1974) , p. 171. 
This is the text of the main address at the Thoreau 
Society meeting of 1973. 

2 Joseph Wood Krutch, in his biography, Henry 
David Thoreau (New York: William Sloan Associates, 
1948), p. 113, notes that "Thoreau the 'nature 
writer' seems to owe less to any predecessors than 
Thoreau the mystic owes to Carlyle and, directly or 
indirectly, to the other radicals who were inspir- 
ing all New England to Utopian experiments." 

For a remarkable and informative recent appre- 
ciation see Edwin Way Teale' s Springtime in Britain 
(New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1970), pp. 133- 

He praises Gilpin's Forest Scenery (1971) on 
April 1, 1852, writing that it is "a pleasing book, 
so moderate, temperate, graceful, roomy, like a 
gladed wood; not condensed; with a certain religion 
in its manners and respect for all the good of the 
past, rare in more recent books; and it is grate- 
ful to read after them. Somewhat spare indeed in 
the thoughts as in the sentences. Some of the cool 
wind of the copses converted into grammatical and 
graceful sentences, without heat." The Journal of 

Henry D. Thoreau, ed. Bradford Torrey and Francis 
H. Allen (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906), III, 
370. He adds, "Gilpin's is a book in which first 
there is nothing to offend, and secondly something 
to attract and please." (Ill, 373). 

5 Journal , VI, 59. 

6 Journal , VI, 103. 

7 Walden , ed. J. Lyndon Shanley (Princeton: 
Princeton University Press, 1971), pp. 281. 

Their editors and reviewers often do it for 
them, referring to Thoreau with an almost inevitable 

See Perry D. Westbrook, John Burroughs (New 
York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1974), pp. 60-61. 
Westbrook 's account of the relationship of Thoreau 
to Burroughs exaggerates Burroughs' criticisms of 
Thoreau in, apparently, a curious attempt to build 
Burroughs' stature in comparison. 

" indoor Studies (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Com- 
pany, 1904) , 39. 

n ibid. 


(New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1962) 

Audubon's Wildlife (New York: Viking Press, 
1964) and The Wilderness World of John Muir (Boston: 
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954). 

This volume is subtitled "A Journey Through the 
World's Great Nature Writing" (New York: Dodd, 
Mead and Company, 1952) . 

While Teale may not have followed a regimen of 
rigorous walking to record the progress of the 
seasonal flowers, I myself suspect that he would 
have stayed to the end of the ant war and given us 
many more particulars. See Walden , pp. 228-230. 
There are, of course, many great differences in 

Springtime in Britain (New York: Dodd, Meand 
and Company, 1970), p. 228. See also pp. 150-52. 
17 Walden , p. 310. 
-'-"Letter to the present writer, 25 June 1978. 

The Firmament of Time (New York: Atheneum 

Publishers, 1960), p. 117. 

See, . , "Thoreau 1 s Vision of the Natural 

World," p. 171. 

21 The Night Country (New York: Charles Scrib- 

ner's Sons, 1971), p. 148. 

The Immense Journey (New York: Random House, 

1957) , p. 20. 

"Thoreau' s Unfinished Business," Natural History 

87 (March 1978) , 6. Surely this is a Thoreau some- 
what more existential then he really was and re- 
flective of a shift from the extraordinarily pene- 
trating essay Eiseley gave at the Thoreau Society 
in 1973. His vision of Thoreau seems to have under- 
gone a shift toward the bleak between 1973 and 1977. 

Atkinson s well-known books of dramatic critic- 
ism are supplemented by his editing of the Modern 
Library Walden and Other Writings in 1950 and by a 
late volume of his own nature essays, This Bright 
Land: A Personal View (New York: Natural History 

Press, 1972) . 

See note 3 above. 

"The Many Worlds of Joseph Wood Krutch," Satur- 

day Review 53 (25 July 1970) , 17. 

z '"Who Was Henry Thoreau," Saturday Review 50 (19 
August 1967) , 18. 

" Grand Canyon: Today and All its Yesterdays 
(New York: William Morrow an<| Company, 1957) p. 234. 

Offered the opportunity, as he describes it in 
The Living Desert (New York: William Sloane Asso- 
ciates, 1952), p. 104 ff., of making further dis- 
coveries about the life of the spade foot toad, 

Krutch dissipates the discussion in joking about 
bating of experts. His readers are left with the 
questions Krutch aroused in them. 

30 (New York: Harper's Magazine Press). 

3 Her literary side is brought out in poems and 
essays having little or no natural reference. A 
volume of poems, for example, Tickets for a Prayer 
Wheel, was published by the University of Missouri 
Press in 1974. 

Among her many references, she calls The 
Strange Lives of Familiar Insects "a book I 
couldn't live without." One could more easily call 
her a Tealeophile, perhaps, than a Thoreauvian. 

3 Josephine Johnson's The Inland Island (New 
York: Simon and Schuster, 1969) is a much better 
example of a nature essay in which style rather 
than depth of study makes the book work. Johnson 
has used the nature essay form to express feelings 
about the world of the time that have little to do 
with natural life itself, which she often joyless- 
ly dislikes. While a New York Times review makes 
the inevitable comparison with Walden , there is 
little similarity, though Johnson uses the familiar 
structure of the year for her text. Pilgrim , on 
the other hand, dazzles with its style but has 
substance as well. 

Lack of space has prevented me from fully 
owning up to the fact that there are others of 
first rank, for instance John Muir, Rachel Carson, 
and John Hay, who are not Thoreauvians, though the 
latter two are in a sense natural descendents. 


These drawings are reproduced from Thoreau's 
Journal . If you wish to identify them, simply 
look up the journal entry for the date indicated in 
the numerals. 

WYATT RICE: A NEW TEXT Edited by George Hendrich 
and Fritz Oehlschlaeger 

We have found- in the Collection of Dr. Samuel 
Arthur Jones at the University of Illinois at 
Urbana-Champaign a fair copy of Thoreau's letter 
of August 5, 1836, to Charles Wyatt Rice; the copy 
is of great significance since the original has 
disappeared and the two early editors who published 
the letter (E. B. Hill and F. B. Sanborn) made 
major and minor errors when they transcribed it, 
Sanborn's mistakes being the most egregious. We 
present here the fair copy version, with our 
reasoning for its adoption as the preferred text of 
the letter; additionally we include the following 
sketch of Rice, whom previous Thoreau -editors have 
identified only as Thoreau's class-mate. 

Charles Wyatt Rice was a member of the Harvard 
Class of 1837. Born in Brookfield, Massachusetts, 
in 181- , he was proud of his laboring-class origins, 
as his entry in the Class Book reveals: "My 
father is a blacksmith, and to this fact I probably 
owe the feelings of indignation, with which I have 
so frequently heard the laboring portion of the 
community scornfully spoken of. It has strongly 
imbued my sentiments with radicalism, and made me 
feel a deep interest in the class from which I am 

sprung." Undoubtedly Rice's attitude toward labor 
and his radicalism appealed to Thoreau, and their 
one surviving letter indicates the two were on 
cordial terms. With Henry Vose and Thoreau, Rice 
participated in a conference which was part of the 
1837 Harvard graduation ceremony; the conference 
topic was "The Commercial Spirit of Modern Times, 
Considered in Its Influence on the Political, 
Moral, and Literary Character of a Nation." After 
graduation, Rice went South because of his health, 
first to Charleston, South Carolina, where he 
taught briefly, and then to Griffin, Georgia, where 
he worked as assistant editor of a literary journal, 
read law, and then entered into law practice. He 
married in 1841 and was the father of one son, who 
entered the Confederate army and died at the age of 
twenty-one. Rice himself did in 1844 of "bilious 
fever. " 


In an undated note written on the fair copy of 
Thoreau's letter to Rice, Dr. Samuel Arthur Jones 
(1834-1912) , the prominent Ann Arbor, Michigan, 
honeopathic physician whose avoation was Thoreau 
scholarship, wrote: "This copy was procured for me 
by L. P. Gould, of Owosso, Mich, (now deceased) 
from some relative of Mr. Rice — the holograph beinq 
treasured as a precious memento." We have been un- 
able to learn anything about Rice ' s relative whom 
Gould contacted or the fate of the holograph. 

The Gould transcription of the letter is as 

Concord, August 5th, 1836. 

Friend Rice, 

You say you are in the hay-field: How I envy you! 
Methinks I see thee stretched at thy ease by the 
side of a fragrant rick, with a mighty flagon on 
one hand, a cold eel slice in the other, and most 
ravenous appetite to boot. So much for haying. 
Now as I cannot hay nor scratch dirt, I manage to 
keep soul and body together another way*- I have 
been manufacturing a kind of vessel in miniature, 
not a ^A" <r<r £> A ^ *<r<'t , 'y«s , .. srs Homer has it, 

but _a kind of oblong, bread-trauah. 
In days of yore, 'tis said, the swimming alder 
Fasioned rude, with branches lopt, and stripped of 
its smooth coat, 

Where fallen tree was none, and rippling streams 
vast breadth 

Forbade adventurous leap, the brawny swain did bear 
Secure to farthest shore. 

The book has passed away, and with the book the lay 
Which in my youthful days I loved to ponder. 
Of curious things it told, how wise men 3 of Gotham 
In a bowl did venture out to sea, 
And darkly hints their awful fate. 
If men have dared the main to tempt in such frail 
barks , 

Why may not wash tub round, or bread-troughs square 

Suffice to cross the purling wave and gain the 
destin'd port. 

What, think you, do these capitals mean? 
When I begin to feel bluey I just step into my hog- 
trough, leave care behind, and drift along our slug- 
gish stream at the mercy of the winds and waves. 
The following is an extract from the log-book of 
the Red Jacket, Captain Thoreau. 
Set sail from the Island — the Island! how expres- 

sive! — reached Thayer's after a tedious voyage, 
having encountered a head wind during the whole 
passage — waves running mountain high, with breakers 
to the leeward however, arrived safe, and after a 
thorough refit, being provided with extra cables & 
a first-rate birch main-mast, weighed anchor at 3 
o'clock P.M. Aug. 1st, 1836, N. S. Wind blowing N. 
N.E. The breeze having increased to a gale, tack'd 
ship — stationed myself at the helm and prepared for 
emergencies. Just as the ship was rounding point 
Dennis a squall struck her, under a cloud of canvas, 
which swept the deck. The aforesaid mast went by 
the board, carrying with it our only mainsail. The 
vessel being left at the mercy of the waves, was 
cast ashore on Nawshawtuck beach. — Natives a 
harmless, inoffensive race, principally devoted to 
agricultural pursuits — appeared somewhat astonish- 
ed that a stranger should land so unceremoniously 
on the coast - got her off at 20 minutes of 4, and 
after a short and pleasant passage of 10 minutes 
arrived safely in port with a valueable cargo. - 
"Epistolary matter", says Lamb, "usually comprises 
3 topics, news, sentiment and puns." Now as to 
news I dont know the coin — the newspapers take care 
of that. Puns I abhor and more especially deliber- 
ate ones. Sentiment alone is immortal, the rest 
are short-lived — evanescent. Now this is neither 
matter-of-fact, nor pung ent , nor yet sentimental — 
it is neither one thing nor the other, but a kind 
of hodge-podge, put together in much the same style 
that mince pies are fabled to have been made, ie, 
by opening the oven door, and from the further end 
of the room, casting in the various ingredients — 
a little lard here, a little flour there — now a 
round of beef and then a cargo of spices — helter 

I should like to crawl into those holes you desc- 
ribe — what a crowd of associations 'twould give 
rise to! 

"One to once, gentlemen". 

As to Indian remains the season for grubbing is 
past with me, the Doctor having expressly forbidden 
both digging and chopping. My health is so much 
improved that I shall return to C. next term if 
they will receive me. French I have certainly 
neglected, Dan Homer is all the rage at present. 
This from your friend and classmate, 
D. H. Thoreau 

P.S. It would afford me much pleasure if you would 
visit our good old town this vacation, in other 
words, myself . Dont fail to answer this forthwith; 
tis a good thing to persevere in well doing. How 
true it is that the postscript contains the most 
important matter invariably. 

Lucius Gould (1847-1904) , who secured this letter, 
was born in Michigan and graduated in law from the 
University of Michigan. He was interested in local 
history and at one time was editor of the Owosso 
Times . We hope he was an accurate copyist, but we 
have no evidence to present on this point. We do 
not know just when Dr. Jones acquired the copy from 
Mr. Gould, nor do we know why Dr. Jones did not 
publish the letter himself. It is most likely that 
Dr. Jones's friend, the printer E. B. Hill, secured 
a copy of the letter, for Dr. Jones regularly shar- 
ed his "finds" with Hill, with A. W. Hosmer in Con- 
cord, and with Henry Salt in England. Hill in 1917 
published Thoreau 's letter to Rice in a pamphlet 
Two Thoreau Letters , but his transcription of the 
fair copy is not entirely accurate (we assume he 

did not locate the holograph) , and he did not recog- 
nize Thoreau' s poem to be a poem and presented it 
as prose. The Hill text was adopted by Harding and 
Bode in The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau ; 
the only other text available to them was printed 
by F. B. Sanborn in his 1917 biography of Thoreau, 
and Sanborn was notorious for altering Thoreau' s 

Sanborn knew of the letter from Hill's printed 
version and from A. W. Hosmer 's Thoreau Collection. 
Sanborn ' s note in The Life of Henry David Thoreau 
makes it appear that the holograph was in Hosmer 's 
splendid collection, but this seems unlikely. It 
is not in the Hosmer Collection now in the Concord 
Free Public Library, and Hosmer did not enter the 
letter in the index to the Grangerized Salt biog- 
raphy where he placed his Thoreau holographs. We 
can find no evidence that Hosmer ever owned 
Thoreau' s letter to Rice. It is more likely that 
Dr. Jones provided Hosmer with a copy of the fair 
copy acquired from Gould and that Sanborn consulted 
that copy, which is no longer in the Hosmer Thoreau 
Collection. Sanborn's transcription of the letter 
varies greatly from the fair copy version in Dr. 
Jones's possession, though Sanborn did recognize the 
poem; in characteristic fashion Sanborn made major 
changes in it, explaining: "In this singular 
epistle I have ventured to restore the rhythmical 
passage into what may have been its original form." 
Bode reproduced Sanborn's "restored" version in 
Collected Poems of Henry Thoreau . 


The holograph of Thoreau' s letter to Rice may 
still be found in an attic in Georgia or Michigan, 
but our efforts to find it have failed. Until the 
letter is found, it is our belief that the copy 
secured by Gould and reproduced above is closer to 
the original than versions published by Hill and 


1 Henry Williams, Memorials of the Class of 1837 
of Harvard University (Boston: G. H. Ellis, 1887), 
p. 25. For biographical information on Rice we 
have also used his obituary in Christian Register , 
September 7, 1844. The Concord Free Public Library 
provided us with these obituaries, and the staff of 
that library was of great help to us as we were 
preparing this article. 

Walter Harding, The Days of Henry Thoreau : New 
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965), pp. 49-50. 

We have reproduced the paragraphing, spelling, 
and punctuation of the fair copy. We are indebted 
to the Rare Book Room of the University of Illinois 
at Urbana-Champaign for permission to reproduce the 
fair copy and Dr. Jones's comment. 

For biographical information on Mr. Gould, we 
are indebted to Mrs. Robert Harrelson of Owosso, 

5 "This letter was in the collection of Alfred 
Hosmer at Concord and has lately been printed by 
E. B. Hill, of Mesa, Arizona." F. B. Sanborn, The 
Life of Henry David Thoreau (Boston and New York: 
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1917) , p. 61. 

6 Ibid. 
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 
Wayne State University 



Blanding, Thomas. "Daniel Ricketson's Sketch Book.' 
Twayne) , pp. 327-338. Reproduces a series of 
hitherto unknown caricatures of Thoreau by his 
friend Ricketson. 

Boudy, Francois. "Henry David Thoreau — Muhen mit 
dent einfachen Leben" (Troubles with the Simple 
Life) . MERKUR, 27 (1973) , 527-39. Text in 

Caloia, "A View of WALDEN." L. A. MAGAZINE (Los 
Angeles, Cal.), 2 (Sept. 1960), 24-25. 

CONCORD JOURNAL. "Lyceum Given Thoreau Letter." 
Aug. 24, 1978. 

Dedmond, Francis. "'He shone O'er mortal hearts: 
Ellery Channing's Poetic Tributes to Thoreau." 
CONCORD SAUNTERER, 13 (Spring, 1978), 1-4. This 
and the next item were, accidentally attributed 
to Thomas Couser in the Summer bibliography. 

. "Straight into Heaven: Another Word on 

Thoreau's Final Days." CS, 13 (Summer, 1978), 

Ferguson, Malcolm; Anne McGrath, and Walter 

First Parish Church, July 16, 1978. Mimeograph- 
ed pamphlet of three sermons on Thoreau. 

Hooper, Peter. "A Leaf for Thoreau." MUSHROOM 
(Waitati, N. Z.), 12 (May, 1978), 33. Poem. 

Hudspeth, Robert. "A Calendar of the Letters of 
Margaret Fuller." STUD. IN AMER. REN.: 1977. 
pp. 49-144. Many references to Thoreau. 

Kennedy, Ed. "Take a Backseat, Mr. Thoreau." 
HONOLULU ADVERTISER. May 15, 1978. About an 
Hawaiian imitator of Thoreau. 

Kostka, Dorothy. "Freedom." DENVER POST. April 
16, 1978. Applying Thoreau's ideas of the 
simple life to today's living. 

McDonald, John J. "A Guide to Primary Source Ma- 
terials for the Study of Hawthorne ' s Old Manse 
Period." STUD. IN AMER. REN.: 1977, pp. 261- 
312. Many references to Thoreau. 

views: AMER. LIT., March, 1978; AMER. HIST. RE- 
VIEW, April, 1978; HISTORY, March, 1978; LIBRARY 
JOURNAL, Oct. 15, 1977; CHOICE, Feb. 1978. 

Mott, Wesley. "Thoreau and Lowell on 'Vacation' : 
THE MAINE WOODS and "A Moosehead Journal." 
THOREAU JOURN. QUART., 10 (July, 1978), 14-24. 

Nathan, Rhoda. "'This Delicious Solitude: 
Thoreau's Metaphysics and the Journey of the 
Self," TJQ, 10 (July, 1978), 3-6. 

Sherwood, Mary. "The Joe Polis Property." TJQ, 
10 (July, 1978) , 3-6. 

Skinner, B. F. "Walden (One) and Walden Two" in 
wood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1978. pp. 188-194. 
Skinner's 1972 Thoreau Society annual meeting 
address. We found it a real pleasure to read 
over again. 

Thoreau, Henry David. SELECTED ESSAYS. Trans. 
into Chinese by Chu Chin. Taiwan: Yuen Chen, 
1977. 200 pp. 


Eliot Porter. Trans, into Chinese by Chin Shian. 
Taiwan: Lin Pai, 1976. 159 pp. Illustrated 
with Porter's photographs. 

Walker, Charles. "A Contrast of the Religious 
Thought of Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Ful- 
ler." Univ. of Ga., 1959. Unpublished M. A. 

Woodson, Thomas. "The Title and Text of Thoreau's 
'Civil Disobedience.'" BULL. OF RESEARCH IN THE 
HUMANITIES, I (Spring, 1978), 103-112. 

We are indebted to the following for information 
used in this bulletin. Please keep the secretary 
informed of items he has missed and new items as 
they appear. R. Adams, T. Blanding, W. Bottoroff, 
J. Butkis, A. Butler, J. Donovan, S. Dunbar, H. 
Durre, F. Fenn, M. Fenn, F. Flack, R. Fleck, G. 
Hannon, G. Hasenauer, C. Hoagland, E. Johnson, K. 
Kesegawa, A. Kovar, J. Laposa, N. Lehrman, Kuo- 
Chien Liang, L. Lionel, M. Manning, A. McGrath, 
J. Moldenhauer, M. Moller, J. Pontin, A. Seaburg, 
R. Stowell, R. Thompson, J. Tobin, G. VanBuskirk, 
J. Vickers, P. Williams, and E. Zeitlin. r 



Deborah Simmerman's book ROCK AND SKY, listed in 
the Summer bulletin, can be obtained from her at 5B 
Holbrook Ct., Rockport, Mass. 01966 for $2.00 in- 
cluding postage. 

Marcy S. Powell of Miami University writes to us 
that most dictionaries of quotations misdate 
Thoreau's journal comment about the trout in the 
milk as Nov. 11, 1854. This includes Bartlett's 
found that gave it correctly (Nov. 11, 1850) was 
Stevenson's HOME BOOK OF QUOTATIONS. He adds, 
"The moral of the story would seem to be: If you 
are going to copy from other reference books, copy 
from one that is right — or take the trouble to 

Charles Lind of Setauket, N.Y. has recently dona- 
ted a copy of Harry B. Chase's "Henry Thoreau, Sur- 
veyor" from SURVEYING AND MAPPING for June, 1965 to 
the Thoreau Society Archives. 

W. G. Mclnnes points out to us that whereas 
Thoreau in his journal for Aug. 30, 1841, says, 
"My life hath been the poem I would have writ, /But 
I could not both live and live to utter it," and 
Bronson Alcott, in his CONCORD DAYS (1872, p. 4) 
says, without acknowledgement, ,r Life's the true 
poem could it be writ, /Yet who can live at once and 
utter it." 

The Current Co. of Bristol, R.I., has for sale a 
copy of the first edition of A WEEK sent by Thoreau 
to Charles C. Morse of Rochester, N.Y., with text- 
ual corrections in Thoreau's hand. Price: $1850. 

Rev. John F. Butkis (Box 685, Kamiah, Id. 83536) 
wants to know if anyone has a copy of Robert Wild's 
statuette of Thoreau he would be willing to sell. 

We have recently read the manuscript of Mrs. 
CYNTHIA DUNBAR THOREAU, a most imaginative and 
delightful work that we hope some perceptive pub- 
lisher will bring out. 

Former Thoreau Society president William Howarth 
is working on a lengthy article on Thoreau for the 
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC according to the Aug. 10, 1978 

Edward Wagenknecht is working on a volume on 
Thoreau in the series of "psychographs" he has 

published over the years. 

Ramada Inns are planning to start construction 
soon on a 182-room motel directly across Route 2 
from Walden Pond. 

Michael West of the University of Pittsburgh has 
recently been awarded an ACLS fellowship to work on 
a study of paradox and wordplay in WALDEN. 

Eleanor Goddard Worthen of Jamaica, Vermont, has 
recently found among the papers of her late father, 
Harold Goddard, a letter from Edward Emerson 
(R.W.'s son) commenting on Goddard' s book STUDIES 
part, "Your paragraphs on that friend of my child- 
hood and early youthk Henry Thoreau, are good. It 
is a satisfaction to see that Lowell's essay 
(quite unworthy of him, and, had he written later, 
I believe he would have written quite differently) 
is losing its influence, and the nobility of 
Thoreau 's character, and the beauty of his thought, 
when not trying to startle Mrs. Grundy, is felt 
widely here and abroad." (May 13, 1908). 

Raymond Adams points out to us that in a recent 
IN MEDICINE (7, 1977, 329-336) there is an extended 
discussion of "Grief-Related Facsimile Illness" by 
S. Zisook and R. A. DeVaul which analyzes ten cases 
similar to Thoreau' s illness after his brother's 

According to the NEW YORK TIMES for Aug. 2, 1978, 
that when New York City recently started enforcing 
its new ordinance requiring dog owners to clean up 
after their pets, one irate dog owner protested 
that she intended to "read Thoreau to my cocker 
spaniel and teach her civil disobedience." 

The Royal Bank of Canada's MONTHLY LETTER for 
July, 1978, after speaking briefly about Thoreau at 
Walden, concludes "We cannot all be Thoreaus; but 
there should be a little of the Thoreau in all of 
us if we are to make the earth safe for coming 
generations. " 

Charles Miskell has called to our attention that 
there is a mineral named "Thoreaulite. " It is 
Tantalum-niobium oxide tin oxide — Sn Oz. (Ta, Nb) 
2O5. Can anyone tell us any more about it or how 
it got its name? 

The Thoreau Society recently received from Lloyd 
Reep a gift of fifty dollars. 

Edward Jarvis , in his manuscript "Traditions & 
Reminiscences of Concord" in the Concord Free 
Public Library, states that only eight Concord 
youths graduated from college in the 1830 's: 
Marshall Merriam C33) and J. Gardner Davis ('36) 
from Yale, and William Richard and William Whiting 
('33), George Moore C34), H. B. Dennis and E. 
Rockwood Hoar ('35) and Thoreau ('37) from Harvard. 
Of these eight, three became lawyers, two ministers, 
one an editor, one a doctor, and one (Thoreau) an 
author . 

An event of great importance to Thoreau scholars 
is the new annual Studies in the American Renais- 
sance , edited by Joel Myerson. See the biblio- 
graphy in this bulletin under Blanding, Hudspeth 
and McDonald. We understand equally important 
articles are scheduled for later volumes. 

Edwin Markham, the poet, wrote in COSMOPOLITAN 
(August, 1906, p. 393) : "No greater service could 
be done the public to-day than the publication of 
(Thoreau 1 s) "Life Without Principle," in a magazine 
of such general circulation as yours. I regard the 
essay as one of the largest and truest utterances 
of a man whom I rank higher than Emerson." 


The personnel of the Walking Society changes from 
time to time, and in early fall we were joined by 
two great grand-daughters of Ellen Sewell, the girl 
Thoreau wanted to marry. It was great fun as we 
walked along the shore of Fairhaven Bay and again 
on the Old Carlisle Road to hear their family remi- 
niscences of the fair Ellen. They showed us a da- 
guerreotype of Ellen at the time she had been in 
Concord, and she was perfectly charming. It was no 
wonder Thoreau boys fell in love with her. If Henry 
was not acceptable to Ellen's father, the young 
minister of the Cohasset church was, and in 1844 
Ellen and Joseph Osgood were married. They lived 
their long fruitful lives in that beautiful seaside 
town, raising a large family, and were at last 
buried in the old town cemetery. 

Naturally at the first opportunity we travelled 
to Cohasset. Our first stop was the cemetery. We 
like to visit cemeteries, for seeing the graves of 
people we have read about always makes us realize 
that these were real flesh and blood people, and 
not just fanciful characters in a story. The graves 
were not easy to find, but with the help of the 
young superintendent and his charts, we did locate 
them. This was the very cemetery which Thoreau 
visited on his trip to Cape Cod, and where he saw 
the gaping hole dug for the victims of the ship- 
wreck of the brig St. John. He also described the 
caskets being trundled to the meetinghouse where 
Joseph Osgood would conduct the mass funeral ser- 
vice. Joseph and Ellen Osgood's graves are under 
the shadow of the huge celtic cross which memori- 
alizes those who drowned in the shipwreck. The 
Cohasset cemetery is a particularly beautiful and 
peaceful spot, its high land jutting out into 
Pleasant Bay. We strolled down to the water's edge 
and for a time watched four snowy white egrets 
wading in the shallow water. 

Across the road from the meetinghouse is the 
present Parish House. It had been the home of 
Ellen and Joseph. It is a fine colonial house with 
central hall, spacious rooms, and was flooded with 
sunlight through its many paned windows. The 
present minister, Mr. Atkinson, was most helpful, 
and showed us pamphlets about the half-century 
pastorate of Joseph Osgood. There was a picture of 
Ellen in late life, showing a mature woman but with 
traces of her early beauty. A large picture of her 
husband hanging on the wall showed him to be a 
kindly man with a twinkle in his eye. Mr. Atkinson 
took us across to visit the church, a charming 1747 
New England meetinghouse with high pulpit, box pevs, 
and galleries around three sides. It was beauti- 
fully kept and gave us a sense of the continuity of 
many years of service. There was a case of exhibits 
which included the original church book, hand writ- 
ten of course and yellow with age. The old minis- 
ter's robe was there, bright red too, contradicting 
the notion that the early clergy wore somber colors. 
A chair thought to have been Mr. Osgood's was in a 
small robing room off the gallery. 

We left Cohasset feeling that even though Ellen 
had always remembered Henry Thoreau with affection, 
and looked back with nostalgia on the months she 
spent in Concord, "where we were so happy", she did 
lead a very pleasant and fulfilled life in Cohasset.